Bar Beat

Good Eats for a Good Cause at OKRA Charity Saloon

By now, unless you've been living under a rock, you've explored that block of downtown Houston that's revitalizing, re-energizing and restoring downtown to the height of its glory. Anchoring the change was OKRA (Organized Kollaboration on Restaurant Affairs) Charity Saloon, one of the first establishments to breathe life back into that corner of Travis and Congress.

With a beautiful space, a relaxed atmosphere, a simple but sophisticated bar menu -- you wouldn't expect any less with the owner of Anvil at the helm -- and a concept that is really working (Corridor Rescue and The Houston Area Women's Center have been beneficiaries of the proceeds in the past months), OKRA is a guilt-free way to spend an evening. And get this -- the food is pretty darn good too.

Each item on the menu of paninis and bites, although straightforward, is well thought out. Each panini ($9) is named after an establishment involved with OKRA. The Hay Merchant has salami and fresh mozzarella, and the vegetarian Poison Girl consists of arugula, avocado, tomato and sriracha mayo. That same sriracha mayo makes an appearance with the waffle fries ($4) found on the bites side along with fried pickled okra and beef jerky.

Every visit to OKRA for me means orders of fried okra and beef jerky, bar food at its best. The okra is pickled, battered in cornmeal and deep fried; it's neither greasy nor "slimy"; and it's addicting, sour and sweet and savory all in one bite. The jerky comes in a paper bag -- something pig ear eaters at The Hay Merchant are familiar with. The jerky is chewy but still meaty. With just a slight hint of pepper, it goes perfectly with any beer on the menu. The Parmesan waffle fries are topped liberally with Parmesan and rosemary. The sriracha ketchup, although some may say it's overdone, is really not for those who are spice-sensitive. On my last visit, I added a panini to my usual spread. The Revival has smoked pork, Gruyère, grain mustard and pickles. It represents its namesake perfectly. The pork is tender and the cheese a perfect companion. All the food comes from the kitchen at Paulie's and is served daily until midnight.

Planning an evening out has never been easier; just head downtown. You can drink and eat well all for a good cause.

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Minh T Truong